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What we have in common

  • Published at 11:56 pm May 4th, 2019
Photo: REUTERS
Photo: REUTERS

Terrorism has nothing to do with religion, but it has a lot to do with religious identity


As the world reels in the wake of the Sri Lanka terror attack, I have found myself wondering why human beings commit these gruesome crimes against their fellow human beings? What separates these attackers from the next person? 

I ask myself, would I ever be capable of doing such a thing? The answer is a resounding “No.” Not me. I would never be capable of doing such a thing. Most Muslims asking themselves this same question in the mirror would be getting the same answer.

Yet, there are people who look in the mirror and don’t get this answer. They are steeling themselves, preparing for what they think needs to be done but in the name of what? God? Religion? Revenge? Maybe all of those things.

How is it that I believe in God and religion (in the case of Islamic terrorists, apparently the same religion) and yet I could never imagine doing such a thing. But they can. As a Muslim, I find myself having an identity crisis. 

This is not what we ought to be known for and yet, this is the image of Islam to the rest of the world. 

Identity is a very human thing, an important part of our development and the thing that fosters loyalty and a sense of belonging. My identity crisis made me wonder how the terrorists must identify themselves. 

“I am a Muslim” they think. Well and good. Then, instead of thinking “I am a human too”, they think “I am a Muslim and I must avenge other Muslims.” 

IS, who has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday terror attacks, has made it clear that this was done in retaliation for the Muslim deaths in the Christchurch attack. This I believe is the result of a warped sense of identity. 

A too-strong attachment to one group that makes the lives of people from other groups seem worthless. 

The Easter Sunday attackers were lost in their identity as Muslims. So strong was their sense of belonging to Muslim society that it became easy for them to disregard the lives of those who they perceived as being “other.” 

They targeted Christians because a Christian man attacked Muslims in Christchurch. Their views of the world are that simplistic. You hurt my kind so I hurt your kind. 

This is the type of thinking that all terrorists have in common regardless of their ethnicity or religious background. The Christchurch terrorist is no different from the Sri Lanka terrorists in this type of thinking. 

The Christchurch attacker identifies as strongly with his background as a white Christian as did the Sri Lanka terrorists with their own identities as Muslims. This kind of people only give importance to the group they identify with, take personal offense at any attack on their group, and make it a personal mission to give retribution.

We are all subject to group mentality to a certain extent but, with terrorists, it is group mentality gone wrong. There is usually a kingpin -- a highly charismatic leader involved in the recruitment and training of terrorists, who makes it a point to exploit people’s sense of identity. 

IS recruiters often attract new supporters by talking about certain world events that any Muslim would feel bad about, such as the US war on Iraq or Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. 

This is how they use people’s sense of identity to garner sympathy and support. 

The supporters are then taught that the world is basically black and white and it is an “us versus them” scenario. Conscience is lost in this black and white world.

Terrorism has nothing to do with religion but it has everything to do with religious identity. When exploited, religious identity can become a deadly tool. 

The only safeguard against this type of thinking is human conscience. That voice inside your head that tells you the difference between right and wrong. 

The voice that tells you that, above all, you are a human and humanity is your main purpose. This voice must never be allowed to fade.

Proma Gulshan is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.